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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Loteria! Grill Hollywood

Growing up in LA, you eat a lot of Mexican food. For the most part the standard fare of tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, toquitos, and quesadillas are enjoyable but not always memorable.

Once in awhile there's a standout. When I first ate at the Loteria! Grill, the mole was a revelation.

Just about everyone we know has eaten at the original Loteria! Grill at the Farmers Market. Located in the geographic center of the Market, there is always a line waiting to order. The lunch time crowd tends to be tourists and people who work in the area. At night families have dinner before they go to the multiplex at the Grove.

For Jimmy Shaw, the chef-owner, Loteria! Grill is a passion project. Born into a family of cooks, trained by his mother in their Mexico City home, Jimmy opened the Grill because so many of his friends missed the taste of authentic Mexican food. An instant success, the Farmers' Market Loteria! Grill was the talk of LA.

Looking to the east Jimmy has opened Loteria! Grill Hollywood, a restaurant-bar in the heart of Hollywood (6627 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood 90028, 323/465-2500) next door to Geisha House.

With an open space and high ceiling, the interior has the feeling of a modern cantina. Jimmy held onto the favorites from the Farmers' Market menu: his incomparable mole sauce, the comforting tortilla soup, the perfectly seasoned black beans...

There are so many great dishes, a first-timer can get an overview by circumnavigating the menu with the Probaditas Sampler and its dozen mini tacos on hand-made tortillas. Sit at the bar, order an ice cold margarita, and you'll be happy for the rest of the evening.

We were part of a lucky group invited to a preview dinner. Served practically every dish on the menu, our favorites were the Mole Poblano con Pollo (of course), the Sopa de Tortilla (ditto), the Champinones con Epazote (mushrooms with Eeazote), the Albondigas En Chipotle (meatballs in a tomato and chipolte Sauce), the Enchiladas de Mole (with chicken), the Summer Salad, the Guacamole y Chips, the Aguas Frescas (watermelon, lemonade, horchata)... I'm probably giving away the fact that we enjoyed every dish.

Jimmy was so generous in letting us sample the menu that we found ourselves with food to spare. Not one to waste food I braved the embarrassment of carrying out to-go containers and took home some of the Carnitas en salsa Morita (pork in a spicy sauce), the black beans, and rice. The next day I was happy to have such terrific ingredients and made a delicious soup. Our friends Ron and Annette came over for our weekly Sunday dinner and we served the soup as the main course. We raised our glasses to toast Jimmy Shaw, to thank his mother for teaching him how to cook, and to our returning to Loteria! Grill Hollywood.

Black Beans, Farmers' Market Vegetables, and Spicy Pork Soup

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup cooked pork
1 small onion, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1 slice of bacon, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, washed, kernels cut off the cob
1 carrot, washed, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 cup cooked rice
Olive oil
Pepper

Method

In a large sauce pan sauté the onions, garlic, bacon, corn, carrots, and parsley in the olive oil until lightly browned. Shred the meat and add to the sauté. If you are using pork, chicken, or beef that is already seasoned, then you may not need to add any heat. Taste and add Tabasco or taco sauce as needed.

Add the black beans and chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes. Just before serving reheat the rice in a microwave oven. Put 1/4 cup of rice in the bottom of each soup bowl, then ladle in the hot soup.

Variations

For a vegetarian version, don't use the meat, bacon, or chicken stock (use 4 cups water + 1 tablespoon butter instead).

Use cilantro instead of Italian parsley

Substitute cooked chicken or beef for the pork

Add 3 cups of spinach leaves (washed, stems removed, roughly chopped) to the sauté

Add 1 cup chopped raw shrimp (washed, deveined) to the sauté

Add 1 cup grilled sausage rounds

Top with homemade croutons and shredded cheddar cheese when serving

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